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How far into the future do we usually think?

And I don’t mean the future as in crystal ball future. To better explain, let’s start with an anecdote. I was talking with a friend, and he expressed his admiration for the Japanese culture.

“They think long-term,” he said, “and their planning sometimes spans more than a generation, planting the seeds for their children and the children of their children,” he continued almost with a melancholic tone.

Then I briefly mentioned that it makes sense, given that it reflects a cultural aspect called LTO, and the Japanese scored a high index in it. Then we continued the conversation into more mundane topics. Eventually, my friend complained about how someone suggested that he set up shop at an industrial complex grouping all similar businesses –software development.

“And they want me to set up shop at the industrial complex. Are they crazy? Why should I move shop all the way there? My customers are here!”

I remember I just said, with a grin, “See? We are what we are!”

Maybe you’ll need a second to see what happened there. My friend, a great admirer of long-term thinking, didn’t want to do something for the future, basing his negative on a “now” situation.

Don’t get me wrong. The anecdote is to illustrate how our national culture –what just is, remember? It will always show on top of our artificial conceptions. No judgment. It just is what it is.

LTO is the last of the cultural dimensions by Geert Hofstede that we will review. It stands for Long Term Orientation. A higher index indicates a long-time-oriented culture, and a lower index a short-time-oriented culture.

Here’s how it is defined on their website:

In a long-time-oriented culture, the basic notion about the world is that it is in flux, and preparing for the future is always needed. In a short-time-oriented culture, the world is essentially as it was created, so that the past provides a moral compass, and adhering to it is morally good. As you can imagine, this dimension predicts life philosophies, religiosity, and educational achievement.

For a quick comparison, are the main cultural traits this dimension brings to their members:

Long Term

  • Emphasis on persistence

  • Relationships ordered by status

  • Personal adaptability important

  • Face considerations common but seen as a weakness

  • Leisure time is not too important

  • Save, be thrifty

  • Invest in real estate

  • Relationships and market position important

  • Good or evil depends on circumstances

Short Term

  • Emphasis on quick results

  • Status is not a significant issue in relationships

  • Personal steadfastness and stability important

  • Protection of one’s face is important

  • Leisure time important

  • Spend

  • Invest in mutual funds

  • Bottom line important

  • Belief in absolutes about good and evil

The following graph compares LTO between Canada, India, Mexico, and the United States.

Mexico scores low in this index (24). This means, among other things, that Mexicans have a strong concern with establishing the absolute Truth, exhibiting respect for traditions. Also, a relatively small propensity to save for the future. More focus on achieving quick results.

The United States also scores low in this index (26). This is reflected in the fact that American businesses measure performance on a short-term basis, with profit and loss statements issued quarterly, resulting in the drive of individuals to strive for quick results within the workplace.

India has an intermediate score (51); therefore, a dominant preference cannot be determined. The concept of “karma” dominates religious and philosophical thought. Time is not linear and is not as important as to western societies, which typically score low on this dimension. In India, there is an acceptance that there are many truths and often depends on the seeker.

With a score of 36, Canada exhibits respect for traditions, a slight propensity to save for the future, and a focus on quick results.

Asian cultures are ranked highest in this dimension (with some exceptions, like the Philippines, ranked among the lowest). African cultures are ranked lowest, followed closely by Western cultures.

LTO, like all other elements of a cultural intelligence report, is a generalization, and individuals of a given culture can have different degrees of compliance with the behaviors described for this and any other dimension. A reminder: there’s no right or wrong; it just is.

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